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This is College Now: Part Three

Critical Analysis

Secondary sources offer an analysis, interpretation, or a restatement of primary sources. They usually involve generalizations, synthesis, interpretation, commentary, and/or evaluations of primary sources as a means of the author proving their argument.

Part of the research process is identifying which secondary sources will support your argument, and critically assessing them to ensure that your research isn’t relying on arguments that are outdated and/or unsubstantiated. To this end, it is important to:

  • Be aware of over-relying on a single critical source. Your secondary source materials should discuss various critical viewpoints on your topic;
  • Ensure that the background reading you do informs your own interpretation and critical analysis of the primary texts, but does not replace your own views;  
  • Read secondary texts critically. You, as the researcher, have the ability (and responsibility) to use or reject secondary material. Secondary sources are not infallible, and as such you should not automatically assume that all secondary sources meet scholarly research rigor.

Your critical reading of secondary texts should attempt to answer the following questions:

  • Who is the author? Are they a scholar in the field?
  • Was the book/ journal published by a scholarly publisher?
  • What is the purpose of the text or motive for writing it?
  • Does the writer have an obvious bias?
  • Does the book/ article have an extensive bibliography?
  • What are the primary sources referred to by the author?
  • What secondary sources are used by the author?
  • Does the text have citations enabling you to check the author's sources?

This text is based on Use of secondary critical sources and Why use secondary sources


Remember that secondary sources interpret primary source information and usually provide discussion perspectives on the topic that the primary sources speak to. 

The secondary sources provided here can answer questions like: 

  • What are the major issues that define each generation? 
  • How is educational attainment affected by things like income and employment? 
  • What is systemic oppression? 
  • What types of marketing impact individual decision-making?  



Thinking about Newspapers

Newspapers are an invaluable source of information, however, you need to understand if a specific article is a primary or secondary source. You should never assume that newspapers are inherently primary!

Generally, articles that contain reporting of current events, written in the present time, can be considered primary. While articles that provide a summary, analysis, or description of past events are usually considered to be secondary. Note that even when an article provides a new analysis of a past event, it is still considered a secondary source as it does not provide a contemporary account of the event. 

In addition, you need to be aware if an article is considered news or an opinion/editorial piece. News articles written by reporters and journalists are intended to document and describe an event, providing facts about what happened, where it, and who was involved. They can include eyewitness accounts and a description of the event. Commentary, analysis, or writing that puts events into a historical context are reserved for editorials or opinion articles. News pieces can be primary sources, while opinion pieces are almost exclusively secondary sources unless you are explicitly exploring public opinion/understanding of a topic. 

When using newspapers as a source of information, there are some additional things to consider: 

  • is the article complete? 
    • does it have the date and newspaper it was taken from?
    • was it trimmed so that there are words missing?
    • is it missing pieces of text? 
  • did the journalist write multiple pieces over several days/weeks/months about the same topic? and if so, do you have copies of all of these pieces? 
  • is there a bias to the article? from the journalist? from the newspaper itself? and how does this bias impact what was reported? 


General Secondary Sources

While the goal of quality research is to include resources that are scholarly in nature (aka written and/or published by academics or experts on a topic), the reality is there is a vast amount of secondary sources--including newspaper articles--that can lend a new perspective to a topic. Use these with caution and always double-check with your professor if they are ok with you including them as part of your research.